Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Abramoff scandal is still yielding convictions A former chief-of-staff to a former congressman who held a high-ranking seat on the House Appropriations Committee pleaded guilty on Monday to accepting bribes and gifts when he was cos for former congressman Ernest Istook, republican of Oklahoma. Albaugh has agreed to become a cooperating witness and will be sentenced in September.

"Socialized Medicine" isn't an obscenity - but this is Hospitals have long relied on outside collection agencies to recoup losses from patients that fall into arrears on their bills, but now they are adding a new twist...they are auctioning the debt on-line. Auctions can drive up the amount paid for debt, meaning a collector must recoup more money from patients to cover its initial investment and turn a profit. The winning bidders often get to keep all the money they collect on the auctioned debt. The same agencies have begun to buy the debt outright, or agreed to provide guaranteed payments to hospitals for access to the unpaid accounts, and then they step up their aggressive collection tactics. For the record, this appears to be the point at which the bean-counting inmates have taken over the underfunded asylum.

A note to all congresspeople: Your oath is to the Constitution, not to your party, and certainly not the president, but most of them seem to have forgotten that and the whining is voluble as the entire House and 1/3 of the Senate stand for reelection in five short months. The affliction is bipartisan. On the republican side you hear synchronized simpering about how hard it's going to be to "show independence" (this nonplusses us, as that is what all cengresspeople are supposed to do in the forst damned place - represent the interests of the constituents in their district. Independently.) Then, last week on NPR we heard Nancy Pelosi say that her job is to assure a Democratic majority! BZZZZTTTT! Wrong! As much as we desire that end, that is NOT Nancy's job. Her job, as Speaker of the House, is to legislate, and to assure that the House of Representatives operates in a Constitutionally proscribed manner. We are ready for the curtain to come down on the Kabuki Theater and a return to the basics.

The fear of crisis is as paralytic as actual crisis
Argentina stands of the precipice of social-upheaval-by-self-fulfilling-prophecy. Strikes by farmers, angered by government policies, have inspired fear of economic damage; which has prompted the populace to exchange their pesos for dollars and forced the government to dip into currency reserves to stabilize the economy. Utility customers are bracing for blackouts, based on the news that the country faces natural gas shortages. A 60 year old taxi driver was blunt in his assessment: "Argentina is like a kid who makes a really good sand castle at the beach, takes a lot of care in building it just right, then steps on it himself. Things have been good recently. Now we have to put a question mark on everything."

Another rat runs screaming off the sinking ship: With President Bush's popularity hovering in the 30s, one of Florida's most conservative members of Congress has decided that a little breathing room might be a good thing. Facing what could be her first significant reelection challenge in two decades, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Miami, shot out two press releases Tuesday intended to distance herself from the president. One was entitled "list of domestic initiatives where Ros-Lehtinen has broken with the current administration.'' The other was headlined "list of foreign policy initiatives where Ros-Lehtinen has broken with the current administration.'' Her office said it was interested in debunking any perception that the generally reliably Republican is a "rubber stamp'' for President Bush. "For the past seven years, Ileana has been mistakenly classified for partisan purposes as a rubber stamp for Bush while she has actually been an independent voice for her district,'' said campaign coordinator Keith Fernandez. "Ileana has deep roots to her district and understands the needs of her constituents. She has never come down with Beltway fever.'' Ros-Lehtinen is a lightweight idealogue who ought to go down in flames with the rest of her ilk--she has no business being re-elected dogcatcher.

Something really is amiss here: In an extraordinary defense of a military commissions decision, the chief of the Guantanamo court on Monday blamed Army bureaucracy for the need to replace a judge at the trial of Canadian captive Omar Khadr -- not pressure to proceed by Pentagon prosecutors. But, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann added that, contrary to an earlier Defense Department announcement, Army Col. Peter E. Brownback III did not voluntarily retire from active-duty status and had sought to see the trial to completion. Khadr, now 21, is accused of the July 2002 grenade killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. He was 15. Brownback, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army, was the longest serving commissions judge, until he was relieved last week. Kohlman's abrupt replacement of Brownback without explanation stirred controversy. Defense lawyers have accused the Pentagon of rushing cases so they'll come to trial at the height of the presidential campaign season. Remember--the world is paying attention, and the rule of law is really taking a beating here.

Wingnut welfare to the rescue: A prominent conservative foundation is lavishing a $250,000 award on Victor Davis Hanson, the Fresno-area farmer and classics professor turned public intellectual. The Bradley Prize becomes the latest and far-and-away most lucrative in a line of honors bestowed on Hanson, who now holds emeritus status at California State University, Fresno. While the prize is novel, the dollars send a deliberate message. "Quite a shock," Hanson said by e-mail Tuesday, shortly after arriving in Washington from Europe. "I'm very appreciative, and did not think someone from rural Selma would have his voice heard with other more distinguished authors and thinkers." Quite a travesty is more like it.

Everything you wanted to know about North Korea but didn't have the time to look up on your own.

McSame, McSame, McSame: Confronting what his aides expect to be Obama's principal attack against him, McCain explicitly rejected the idea that he represents President Bush's third term. "Why does Senator Obama believe it's so important to repeat that idea over and over again?" he asked. "Because he knows it's very difficult to get Americans to believe something they know is false." As evidence of his independence, McCain highlighted his breaks with Bush on Iraq, energy and climate change. As further evidence, the fact that McCain voted with the President a hundred percent of the time this year? The Media Mancrush forgets to tell you that.

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